Small Leaks, Big Problems

A hotel barge making maneuvers at the start of the season in Auxerre

A hotel barge making maneuvers at the start of the season in Auxerre

When we arrived back in France on April 13th of 2016 it was clear that the builder would not be fixing Wanderlust’s many build related faults anytime soon. Indeed, it seemed they might just try to pay us some small sum of money to go away. It was time for us to find a boatyard to do the repair work. In fact we might have to find a few yards; identifying a single yard with all of the capabilities needed to complete the full scope of the repair work would be a challenge.

Before we returned to France our 2016 cruising route was set: We’d take the most direct routes to the nearest boat yards to get work estimates. It’s hardly how we imagined using our barge when we laid out the funds for the build slot deposit. Even this modest plan came with a delay. Before we could leave Auxerre we needed to get the main engine exhaust leaks fixed.

The exhaust leak was evident from the soot collecting on the lagging over the defective joint.

The exhaust leak was evident from the soot collecting on the lagging over the defective joint.

We had first noticed the leaks in the main engine’s exhaust while Wanderlust was on the Thames. In July of 2014 we contacted the builder. At the time Wanderlust’s engine had just 155 hours on the clock.

To our surprise, when builder visited to examine the problem, he pronounced that the exhaust gas escaping from the system into the engine compartment as normal. The system would “soot in,” we were told.

We disagreed, verbally and by email afterwards. It was hard to believe that any exhaust leaks into a confined area would be viewed as acceptable under any circumstance. And after 155 engine hours, roughly the equivalent of 9,000 highway miles in a car, it seemed that there had been more than enough time for the any leaks in the system to close on their own. But our opinion did not matter. The builder had decided to not fix the exhaust leak. In his opinion, the system had been constructed to his expected standard. To the builder, there was no problem. We had no choice but to live with the leaky exhaust.

The defective male end of the fitting

The defective male end of the fitting

The delays gave us a chance to see the trains in Toucy.

The delays gave us a chance to see the trains in Toucy.

With time, the exhaust leaks did not soot in. Instead the leaks widened and got worse. By the spring of 2016, after 950 engine hours, the equivalent of 57,000 highway miles, there were four leaks in an exhaust system with four joints.

A leaky exhaust might be a small problem for a car where the system is on the outside. On a boat, the leaks allowed exhaust fumes into a confined, occupy-able area. Stepping into the engine compartment while the main engine was running meant breathing in diesel exhaust. The engine room was covered with fine soot. Though the builder didn’t think that the exhaust leaks were a real problem, any owner of one of his barges with similar leaks would likely not agree. For us the “small” leak had become a big problem.

On the surface fixing the exhaust leaks would be easy, as long as the big tools needed to do the work were available. All it would take would be to separate the joints, add cement, and then re-assemble. At least that is what we thought. And indeed a repair of that ilk worked for three of the four leaks.

The flexible hose of Wanderlust's exhaust system

The flexible hose of Wanderlust’s exhaust system

The newly machined fitting in the flexible hose

The newly machined fitting in the flexible hose

The fourth leak, the very leak that was shown to the builder after we had just four months on board, was much more difficult to resolve. This joint is between the end of a flexible section of hose and the rigid pipe to the hospital silencer. The bendable mesh hose was the final link that allowed the otherwise rigid system to be assembled. To make the connection, the threaded female joint on the end of the flexible hose that leads to the engine is screwed onto a rigid threaded male end of an elbow joint that connects to the exhaust outlet. It is tricky to make this joint fit snuggly. The tolerances are tight.

When an engineer in Auxerre disassembled the fourth joint, the source of the leak was immediately clear. The terminal end of the male side of the joint was manufactured unevenly. Even with a gasket, this defective end of the joint would not seal properly inside the female joint. There was never a chance that this exhaust joint would function correctly.

Repairing the fourth leak was not straightforward. The defective pipefitting was not an off-the-shelf item and a replacement part had to be machined. It took time and was expensive. Six weeks and 741 Euros later, the Wanderlust’s exhaust system was back together. For the first time since launch, Wanderlust’s exhaust did not leak.

The exhaust disassembled and waiting for the replacement parts.

The exhaust disassembled and waiting for the replacement parts.

The exhaust repair work was not the only thing that delayed the beginning of our 2016 cruising season. Before we returned to France the builder had scheduled a date, the 18th of May, to inspect Wanderlust together with his expert. Until the visit we would not begin any repairs. Waiting for the inspection added a five-week delay to the start of the season.

There was a slight reprieve; the builder unilaterally canceled his inspection a week in advance. Though the cancelation was annoying and delayed any progress towards resolving the dispute by five months, it did let us initiate the repairs a week earlier than expected. Nevertheless, between the builder’s scheduled inspection and the repair work it took from the middle of April until the end of June before Wanderlust was ready to start her cruising seaon.

On June 29 Wanderlust’s 2016 Tour de Boat Yard began. Gone was the dream of heading to Belgium and Holland. Instead we would head to Saint Jean de Losne via the Canal de Bourgogne. We were taking a direction that would lead us past as many boat yards as possible. Our route would be defined by Wanderlust’s issues and not by our desires to explore Europe’s inland waterways.

The repaired fitting being installed:  Wanderlust would soon be ready to cruise.

The repaired fitting being installed: Wanderlust would soon be ready to cruise.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Small Leaks, Big Problems

  1. Pingback: Wanderlust Wanders: Auxerre to Migennes | Wanderlust

  2. Hello,
    We are overlanders and have travelled around the world on wheels. Now we are considering life on a boat.
    We love the honesty of your website. Full of great information!
    Maybe we can get in touch?
    Best wishes, Rose

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s